Let me hear you say “Whew!”
The game, for the first time in this series, was a game of longballs, and that’s the Braves’ game. Chipper Jones and Eric Karros both hit two homers. Luckily for the Braves, Chipper’s were both two-run shots (one from the left side, one from the right) while Karros’ were both solo efforts. That’s the difference in the game right there.
Or the difference was about five feet. Sammy Sosa hit a long fly ball to center field with two out and a runner on second in the bottom of the ninth. But Andruw caught it on the edge of the warning track. I’ve heard some criticism of the Braves for pitching to Sosa with first base open, but it was undoubtedly the right call, and would have been even if Sosa homered. You simply don’t walk the tying run to face a hitter like Moises Alou, who not only is a veteran hitter with power but also went 3-4 on the day and is hitting .500 in the series.
John Smoltz was the pitcher in the ninth, entering up 6-3 but then allowing back to back doubles (Chipper should have caught the first one) to start the inning. He got out of it by striking out Kenny Lofton (couldn’t happen to a nicer guy) and getting Grudzielanek to popup, then the Sosa fly out.
Russ Ortiz started and walked the tightrope for five innings. He didn’t get out of the sixth, though winding up giving up two runs. The middle relief did yeoman work, four pitchers combining for three innings. The key situation was the sixth, when after Ortiz allowed Karros’ first homer to cut it to 4-2 then walked the next batter, Bobby brought in Ray King, of all people. And King got a righthanded pinch-hitter to ground into a double play. Gryboski got the last out of the inning, Wright was dominant in the seventh, Cunnane allowed Karros’ second homer in the eighth. Kent Mercker apparently is unavailable and Boom-Boom Bobby was up in the bullpen twice.
After Robert Fick’s antiheroics last night, Julio Franco started at first base for the Braves and hit sixth. Gary Sheffield missed the game with a bruised hand after being hit last night, and Darren Bragg started in right and hit eighth. Julio was huge, going 3-4 with a walk, scoring the Braves’ first run and setting up their fourth. Bragg, predictably, was 0-5 but did drive in that first run with a groundout.
Fick got into the game to pinch-hit in the seventh and tried a really dirty trick to try to get on base. Fick bunted to the pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, who dove for the ball and made a great play to throw Fick out. Fick, however, stuck his hand up and slapped Karros’ arm in a truly Hrbekian attempt to steal a baserunner. The umpires didn’t fall for it. Karros’ arm appeared to be hurt, but he stayed in the game and hit another homer. Farnsworth, however, left with a strained knee and the Braves got two runs off of Mark Guthrie, a lefty specialist asked to pitch to a bunch of switch-hitters and righties because the Cubs didn’t have any real relievers left but Joe Borowski. I have to think Farnsworth’s availability tomorrow is in question.
The Marlins won their series (the Giants deserved to lose after some of the worst mental baseball I’ve ever seen in postseason) and get to rest. Mike Hampton will pitch against Kerry Wood tomorrow night in Turner Field. I have to work, but be there, huh? Don’t let the Cubs fans take over our house again.
Speaking of Cubs fans, the silence after Chipper’s first homer, which turned a tie into a 3-1 Braves lead, was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.